ACCA Strategic Business Leader (SBL): Attempt it step-by-step

Updated: Aug 18, 2020


ACCA Strategic Business Leader (SBL) has already been introduced to replace P1 (Governance, Risk and Ethics) and P3 (Business Analysis) in professional level since September 2018.


Generally, SBL pass rates ranged between 45% and 50%, which are a little bit lower than either P1 or P3.


As it is a four-hour exam, the examiner has said the approach to this exam is different from others and each student should pay attention on how to complete the exam by managing their time wise.

In this article, I would like to share with you on how to attempt the new paper. You can also click HERE to understand more about SBL exam.


Recap the key points in Strategic Business Leader (SBL) paper

Under the new professional exam structure, SBL is introduced and it is 1 of essential papers in professional level.


In our earlier update, the new structure was detailed. Here we recap the 6 key points in SBL paper (Refer to article of ACCA Exam Structure Evolution on Sep 18: Advices that you can't miss) –

  • It is a 4-hour exam. It includes reading, planning and answering of the questions.

  • You are given 1 case material (about 10 pages) and assignments to be answered.

  • These assignments or tasks may require you to take on various roles of organisational leaders, consultants or advisers to senior management, depending on the situation.

  • Fundamental knowledge of Strategic Business Leader is widely covered from prior exams.

  • Technical marks share 80% and another 20% goes to professional marks.

  • Suggested number of study hours are 50% more than other paper in the same level in view of the wide coverage.


SBL syllabus mainly were adapted from existing P1 and P3 while there are also new areas in which it assumes students could bring forward the knowledge from previous levels examinations.

They are mainly from F1 (Accountant in Business), F5 (Performance Management), F7 (Financial Reporting), F8 (Audit and Assurance) and F9 (Financial Management).

ACCA has already issued 2 specimen exam papers on SBL.

It gives a lot of hints to both tutors and students on how the formats are and what the approaches to handle this paper.

What are the suggested steps to attempt SBL?


Step 1: Time to allocate in planning and answering question


For ACCA professional level exam, it is always true to plan how to answer a question before writing something on the answer booklet.

You have 240 minutes to attempt SBL. But, you no need to spend all the time to write.

On the other hand, you need to allocate your time to read the materials, analyse the requirements, plan how to answer the questions and write your answers.

Given your reading speed is on average, it is advised to spend 40 minutes to read through whole case study materials.

Details can be referred to: How to successfully attempt the exam.

It is suggested to firstly read through each of the requirements before you go into details on the reading materials.

In addition, it is not advantageous to skimming through the materials as you no matter to read them again later.

Then, you will have 200 minutes to analyse the requirements, prepare how to answer and write it down.

Since 20 professional marks will be earned through the way you structure and show your answers, you have 200 minutes to gain 80 technical marks.

Therefore, you have 2.5 minutes per 1 mark in SBL.


Step 2: Analysing requirements with reference to specimen exam questions

The next step is to analyse each requirements before planning how to answer.

In my tutoring experience, I find quite a lot of students practicing many questions from past exam papers.

They are comfortable if the exam format and questions are similar to what they have practiced.

I do the same too.

However, I find the style of 2 specimen papers are not the same, in view of the length of requirements.

In specimen 1, technical marks are ranged from 5 to 15 in each requirement. Download by clicking: Specimen 1



But in specimen 2, the gap between each requirement is much narrower. Technical marks are ranged between 6 and 12. Download by clicking: Specimen 2

So, it is very important to you to analyse each requirements in details and plan your answer, especially you are required to write concise and precise.

Here is an example showing how important of analysing requirements


I choose Specimen paper 1 question 1 (a) to show how to analyse requirements.

First of all, what is your role stated in the requirement? And, who are the audience?

You are a consultant writing a report to the directors of DCS Company.

It determines your tone in the answer.

Next, part (i) asks you using an appropriate model to analyse two things, industry and market which DCS Company is competing in.

The models that are appropriate here including Porter’s five forces and PESTLE.

Either one of them can be chosen to answer.

Part (ii) requires students to evaluate the performance from Integrated Reporting (IR) view.

You have to know six capitals of IR to answer.

There are estimated to have around 10 regular used question verbs, such as list, define, discuss, evaluate, analyse and so on.

You need to understand their meanings and pay attention on how to answer.

Another important job you need to do during requirements analysis is about the mark allocation.

Under our time management rule, 2.5 minutes per 1 mark so that –

Part (i) 37.5 minutes

Part (ii) 30 minutes

Students ar